Desirée Holman, Sophont, 2015 (still); photo: Charles Villyard

Panel Discussion

On the Future’s Race

Part of Desirée Holman: Sophont in Action

Mark Jerng and LeiLani Nishime join Desirée Holman to discuss the history of racial fantasy in science fiction. From sexless and grey extraterrestrials to the multicultural Zion of The Matrix films, science fiction often posits alternatives to the fraught realities of present-day race and nationality. Sophont in Action’s core characters—Time Travelers, Ecstatic Dancers, and Indigo Children—draw on this rich history.

Desirée Holman’s Sophont in Action is part of Performance in Progress.


Desirée Holman’s gallery-based work makes use of rehearsals, costumes, and props to present complex social groups, often in a state of change. She describes her scenarios as attempting to “occupy British anthropologist Victor Turner’s notion of liminality, a transitional state of ritual wherein participants fully engaged in performance inhabit a series of new, hybrid identities.” Sophont in Action, in both its performance and video forms, captures these identities as they prepare for a utopian future from the esoteric knowledge and lived experiments of the past and present. Desirée Holman lives and works in Oakland, California.

Mark Jerng is an associate professor of English and the director of graduate studies at the University of California, Davis. His research specializations include Asian American literature and transnationalism, critical race theory, science fiction and fantasy (especially by contemporary Asian American and African American authors), genre and narrative theory, and law and literature. His first book, Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging (2010), focuses on the ways in which shifting norms of race and kinship shape and naturalize our conceptions of personhood. He is currently working on a book titled Racial Worldmaking. This project takes up particular popular genres—future war; plantation romance; sword and sorcery; alternate history—in order to analyze how genre formations inform our perceptual organizations of ‘race’ and ‘world.’

LeiLani Nishime is an associate professor of communication. Her research areas are multiracial and interracial studies, the intersection of race and gender, Asian American media representations, and Asian American subcultural production. Her 2014 book, Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture, looks at the visual representation of multiracial people in mass media. She has also co-edited two books on Asian American popular culture and is editing a collection of essays on race and ecology. Nishime currently serves as the Northwest and Hawai’i representative on the board of the Association of Asian American Studies. She is also an organizing member of the Seattle Asian American Film Festival.

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